Boxing Day Bonanza - AFR Voice Ep. 20

In England, the day after Christmas means only two things – one, gulping down the remainder of the Christmas turkey and two, watching a phenomenal amount of football.

Each side in the top tier played on the 26th December, and we’ve picked out the major points for debate – including the continuation of Newcastle’s astonishing hot-streak, a potentially season-defining win for Manchester City and the welcome return of Darren Fletcher at Manchester United.

After we made our way out of that dizzying coma of food and goals, we took a far more global approach – analysing The Guardian’s list of the top 100 players in the world and doffing our caps to Bayern Munich who won the Club World Cup in Morocco. But what about the tournament itself – is it simply a vacuous money-spinner for FIFA, or is it a credible title that deserves more respect?

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An early exit after 27 years: Sir Alex steps down in his own style

By Anthony Lopopolo

The numbers pop out of his resume like eyes out of a cartoon character: he won 27 major trophies with United over the same number of years; he outlasted 116 managers on seven major European clubs; and he’s won 75% of his home games at Old Trafford. Nothing satisfied his hunger for success, and his diet never consisted of anything but winning. He’s always the first man at Carrington, the team’s training facility in Greater Manchester, there before staff and players as early as 5 a.m. He’s said over and over that he has trouble envisioning life without football. Retirement was something he wasn’t exactly ready for. "Nobody’s getting rid of me," Sir Alex Ferguson told The Guardian in March.

Nobody – not the media, not the club, not his body – but himself did.

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Rooney can score with his eyes closed 

Robin van Persie aside, Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck, and Chicharito have defined Man Utd’s strike force in recent years. Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole defined Manchester United’s attack in the late 90s. So when the retired talismen challenged the current set of players, they threw in a little twist: scoring while blindfolded. Cole and Yorke showed that their trust in one another made it simple, whereas Rooney and Welbeck needed a few rounds to combine on something special. [video. Posted by Eric.]

Through Ryu’s Lens: Old Trafford dreams trump FA Cup magic

The Theatre of Dreams was as vibrant as ever, and Ryu almost forgot just how incredible of a venue it is. Manchester United welcomed Fulham, but acted rudely to their guests with a display of pure demolition. Rooney, Chicharito, and Ryan Giggs led the way forward into the 5th round of the FA Cup, leaving Fulham with only a consolation goal for their trip back to Craven Cottage.

Interact with Ryu on twitter @Toksuede and check his Flickr. Posted by Eric.

"Cantona’s Collar", written and performed by Musa Okwonga

I’m everywhere that Eric is -
His shirts, I crown -
And, like excessive volume,
Some would turn me down.

I’m white iron, defiant from my toes to tip,
Yes, I am France’s most famous cliff
And Eric’s two-point plan for winning a derby 
Is: number one, lace boots; then, two:
Starch me.

I’ve seen umpteen glorious battle-scenes;
Look, I am football’s Bayeux Tapestry -
And for those who say of me “whoa, he’s arrogant”
I have two words:
"Trophy cabinet."

Filmed by Jon D Barker. Football x Poetry x King Cantona. It’s a beautiful thing.

Ashley Young at United – Slippery Snip or Expensive Bench Warmer?

By Oliver Sparrow, writing from London

Ashley Young’s arrival at Old Trafford has been met with mixed reaction amongst Manchester United fans. At around £15m some say he’s good value English talent when compared to the £20m Liverpool paid to bring in Jordan Henderson from Sunderland, but could he end up being a £15m bench warmer?

The major bone of contention seems to be the conundrum of where he will fit in at United. In Nani and Valencia, Ferguson already has two of the Premier League’s best wingers and it’s hard to see how Young will go about displacing either of the pair. Young was utilized predominantly on the left wing for Villa, but this is the wing that Nani plays on when Valencia is fit.

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U21 England v Spain - Young Starlets’ Chance to Shine

By Oliver Sparrow, writing from London

Under 21’s tournaments usually don’t tend to hold a lot of interest for the average English football fan, but occurring as it does in a dead spot in a fallow football summer devoid of much meaningful sporting interest (even the miserable weather conspired to rain off today’stennis final at Queen’s), a fair few eyes will be cast over the tasty-looking encounter between the young stars of England and Spain this evening; made all the more interesting by the big-money transfers of Jordan Henderson to Liverpool and Phil Jones to Manchester United (prospectively).

In a squad absent of big-name stars like Jack Wilshere and Micah Richards (note Thiago Alcantara’s cheeky dig), it’s a big chance for the expensive young stars to prove that they’re worth their staggering price tags. Some may argue that it’s not down to the players to justify what has been spent on their transfers, but Liverpool and Man Utd fans will be running the rule over their clubs’ newest investments and no doubt a certain proportion of those fans will have their knives out should they not like what they see in this tournament.

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Back up your banter with AFR in the Heineken Star Player game, see your club live in the Champions League. Simple.

By Oliver Sparrow, writing from London

I’ve had a chance to play the Heineken Star Player game and although I was pretty abysmal at it, I thought it was a really good laugh. Proving to your mates that you’ve got the best footballing brain whilst watching a live game, instead of just shouting abuse at them down the pub seems more positive all around. Star Player allows you to watch UEFA Champions League matches on television whilst playing it in real-time on a computer, iPhone or iPod touch. How often have you checked your phone or been on the computer whilst watching a game live on TV? At AFR we’re always dual-screening, it just seems to be part of our nature. Well, Star Player takes advantage of that.

We don’t normally do this, but we decided to team up with Heineken on this one to give our awesome readers an exclusive chance to win two tickets to a UEFA Champions League group game of their choice next season.*  To win, all you have to do is enter and come top of our VIP ‘AFR Stars’ league and play the Heineken Star Player game on your iPhone, iPod touch, or on Facebook. Full details below.

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Anderson Signs New Contract

News has broken today that Manchester United Midfielder Anderson has put pen to paper on a new four-and-a-half year contract to stay with the Red Devils.

The news has come after a recent string of strong performances in a United shirt. Transfer speculation concerning the player was rife during the summer after the Brazilian was struggling to come back to form following a serious knee ligament injury sustained last season. However, it seems that he is back in favour with boss Sir Alex Ferguson, who said “We are delighted that he has signed a new contract”.

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